Brute, Part XIX: Why Isn’t He Giving a Goddamned Eight Count?

When the fighters came out for the second, Jett had a daub of Vaseline over his left eye. He’d been cut, likely in the last exchange of the first round. It was Martyniouk’s job, therefore, to expose the cut and broaden it. He went about that business by pushing Jett back against the ropes where the first round had ended. Using both hands, Stan hit Jett a number of times. But Jett was defending himself well, and if Stan intended to knock his man out, as he’d knocked out Matt Mahler on May 15th, he would need an open ring to work in. Martyniouk, I noticed, liked to use the full expanse of canvas in a fight. Though a dominant boxer should be more dominant when his opponent can’t move, it seemed that Stan, for all of the four minutes I’d watched him, was more successful when he could maintain some distance. His most competent punches in the first round he’d thrown, not when Jett was cornered, but when Jett was dancing nervously in the center of the ring.

The rest of the second took place in the center of the stage. As I’d noted in the first, Jett looked comfortable when he got driven to the ropes, and sensing that perhaps, Stan refused to drive him there. Stan’s jab, which had been a little tense in the first, took on the deliberate quality it had had a few days earlier when I’d watched him in the gym. Midway through the round he stabbed Jett with it, and Gerrell, who was standing near me, yelled, “That’s what it’s supposed to look like!” It was indeed a pretty punch.

Sometime near the turn of the final minute, Jett hit Martyniouk with an audible straight right, and I was almost shocked to remember that Jett was at liberty, should the whim strike him, to punch at Stan. He’d spent the better part of three minutes failing to do so. And until Jett hit him, I think Stan may have forgotten he wasn’t sparring with a bag. But he’d been reminded, and with this relevant information reissued to him, Stan landed a tremendous left hook that nearly spun Jett around. Stan moved in, obviously with the intention of killing Jett, but for some absurd reason, the referee, who to that point had only separated the boxers once for hugging, put his arm between them.

“Let Stan finish!” Mehrad yelled. I shared his desire. The hook Stan had thrown was a formidable one, and had clearly damaged Jett. But Jett still hadn’t touched the floor with anything other than his feet. To end the bout before its natural climax, therefore, seemed unconscionable. It is a referee’s duty to protect a wounded fighter from unnecessary injury, but the violence wasn’t yet gratuitous. Stan dropped his hands and bounced on his toes. He wouldn’t allow himself to celebrate until the ref had waved off the fight. Nor would the audience cheer, and the room suffered the oppression of anticipation for at least an entire second. But instead of declaring Jett deceased, the official simply clapped his hands together to indicate that the fight was recommencing.

“Why the hell did he separate them?” said one of the White Tigers unrhetorically. “Why isn’t he giving an eight count?” The speaker was, as we all were, looking around for someone who might clarify what had just happened in the ring. We had all gone from thinking that Stan was about to win, to thinking that he had won, to thinking that Jett had been, by the referee’s estimation, virtually knocked down and thus would receive a standing eight count and the mandatory deduction of a point, to understanding, ultimately (or rather not ultimately understanding), that the ref had either separated the boxers accidentally, or, and this is more reasonable, had done so with the intention of helping Jett survive. But in a game of chess, just because one player sweeps the pieces off the board after finding himself in check does not mean he’s achieved a draw. He has in fact lost. Jett had not in fact yet lost, but he was unstable from the last punch Stan had thrown. He had a bishop, a knight, and two pawns spread out across the board, while his king, in a wet dressing gown, stood in the square where he’d begun.

The strange officiating had confused the crowd, but they, and I with them, were nonetheless cheering for a swift restoration of justice. Stan, it seemed, had only to blow on Jett’s cheek to finish the fight. But Jett moved to the ropes, where he’d finished the first round, and where he seemed to reacquire confidence. Stan stalked him down. The timekeeper clapped his sticks, or banged his gavel, to announce that the round was concluding, and Stan hit Jett squarely on the jaw with a left. But Jett only bounced off the cables, his eyes wide open, as surprised as we all were that he hadn’t fallen down. The bell rang as Stan was preparing to hit Jett again, and I felt as the fighters went to their corners that I’d been denied the psychological relief of seeing Jett on the floor where I thought he’d belonged for two rounds.

During the previous break I’d felt excited for the second round, but now as the third loomed I had the distinct impression that nothing dramatic was going to happen. Mehrad was watching Angela, whose turn it was in the ring again, make her circle of the square with the third round card over her head. He looked at me and said, “This round, KO.” Then he drew his index finger across his windpipe to suggest, effectively, that Stan was going to slit Jett’s throat. But there was no bloodletting in that third round, or for that matter the fourth. The cut above Jett’s eye maintained its healthy coat of Vaseline, and he managed to throw a few insipid punches at Stan, one of which may even have landed. Stan, undaunted by the travesty of the officiating in the second, continued to hit Jett, especially in the face, with a great deal of energy. But Jett wouldn’t fall over. By the end of the fourth, I was astounded by two things: Martyniouk’s tenacity, and Jett’s resiliency. Jett had been nearly knocked out in the first, twice in the second, twice more in the third, and once more in the fourth. When the abuse was finally over, Gerrell, with his arms crossed over his chest, said, “Boy’s got a good chin.”

“He must have taken twelve good ones,” I said.

“He was trying so hard not to get knocked out,” said Gerrell.